Phonogram: Singles Club #2


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Phonogram: Singles Club #2


  • Words: Kieron Gillen
  • Art: Jamie McKelvie
  • Inks: Jamie McKelvie
  • Colors: Matthew Wilson
  • Story Title: Wine and Bed and More and Again
  • Publisher: Image Comics
  • Price: $3.50
  • Release Date: May 6, 2009

Phonogram works best when it feels like you are the only person in the world who gets it.  The references to little known music groups and its steep embedding in Brit pop culture makes it an interesting book for Image to be publishing.  Certainly, it performs better on the sales charts over in the Queen’s island, where the bands are less obscure and the idioms spoken by the characters less, er, exotic.

The first volume of the book, Rue Britannia, worked this way.  Through its hate him so much you love him protagonist Dave Kohl, you got to see a seedy underside of music.  A place where the memories that are bound to that song from your youth can effect change in the world.  It was a place where that song that you would die if you never heard it again, might actually hold the power to kill you.  Through its long narrative, the reader was drawn into the world.  The magic was teased at until you accepted its world and then when it had its hook in you, you would follow anywhere it lead you.  In that way, Phonogram worked like its darker cousin, Hellblazer.  No matter how fantastic or absurd, you felt that what was happening to Constantine was earnest, if not all together honest.  Kohl functioned on the same plane, he just defended the English Empire through his knowledge of music.

Singles Club works on a different angle.  It is short stories that intertwine with each other.  They appear thus far to be happening in the same dance club.  The songs take the characters on a similar journey but the wonder of the build up is not there.  This alienates this current volume with its more new reader friendly style from actually being new reader friendly.  If one has not read the previous volume, it just seems like a mess of randomness that is not explained.  Certainly if you read the back cover or the two shorts after the main story, you might grasp a magical element.  However, if not, a new reader might just think this is an odd dream sequence and unfortunately it would be a valid reading. It is sort of a magical dream brought on by a powerful wielder of the weapon most used in the series.

Not only that, you don’t get a feel for these characters.  In fact, I would be hard pressed to tell you what the girl and the guy’s, who take up the bulk of the story, names are.  I have no idea and there is little there to make me care.  It is a nice memory of a full relationship, but when the reader is not given any emotional connection or back story to why this guy is special, they don’t really care what got them to where they are.  Even having seen how this relationship plays out from beginning to end, the reader is still distant from the characters and that is just not good storytelling.

That being said, McKelvie and Wilson are phenomenal.  McKelvie draws with the same kind of passion that makes the artwork of Tomine and Terry Moore such a joy.  He resists the desire to over render and creates more honest emotions as a result.  Like Moore, it is obvious that McKelvie studies the human form and probably sketches relentlessly.  The reason being that with simple realistic cartoon styling, he need not worry about getting the actual gestures right, but he does.  Shoulders shrug, sleeves creep up hands, fingers cringe.  While not wallowing in details to obsessiveness that is the hallmark of current superhero books, he creates more detail, at least in the way humans move and more importantly, he understands how to make you feel with them.  What little emotional content there is in this story is because McKelvie is a master of emotive cartooning. 

Wilson is a perfect complement using a four color pallette that is artistically symmetrical to the way the penciller draws.  He uses shadow to accentuate the light dot to create three dimensional optical effect.  He creates the feeling of a photograph through the shading even though the bright colors and lack of detail tells the brain it is not photographic.  It is a kind of photorealism that is created by understanding how things actually look as opposed to tracing over them.  It is an artistic presentation, not an artistic recreation.

Phonogram is still a book that feels like your own personal secret.  It speaks to the reader on such a personal level that those who have been caught by its spell will continue to devour it.  Even this reader anticipates the next issue.  It just doesn’t feel like a particularly powerful spell anymore.  While I still feel like the only person who gets it, I am unsure as to whether or not it gets me.

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